A guide to who Essex face in 2021 County Championshpi

Essex celebrate after winning the Bob Willis Trophy Final at Lord's, London.

Essex celebrate after winning the Bob Willis Trophy Final at Lord's, London. - Credit: PA

Essex start the 2021 County Championship season with a home match against Worcestershire at the Cloudfm County Ground on Thursday.

Having won the Bob Willis Trophy during the truncated 2020 campaign, on the back of their County Championship and Vitality Blast T20 Double a year earlier, Tom Westley's side will be looking to qualify from group one in the revamped competition to pursue more glory this summer.

Sir Alastair Cook scored 563 runs at 65.3 for Anthony McGrath's side last year, while Simon Harmer took 38 wickets at 15.9.

Off-spinner Harmer is now classed as an overseas player, not a Kolpak, and will be a key figure after claiming 250 red-ball wickets thus far, as Australian seamer Peter Siddle also returns.

Sam Cook had weighed in with 94 wickets in 26 matches and will fight it out with Siddle and Jamie Porter for new-ball duties, with Aaron Beard in support, while Adam Wheater appears to have emerged from James Foster's shadow behind the stumps.


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Dan Lawrence will hope to build on his winter with England as Essex remain the team to beat and seek red-ball silverware for a third straight year, not done since Yorkshire in 1966-68.

Here's a guide to who they face in the first stage of the red-ball campaign:

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DERBYSHIRE

Head of cricket: Dave Houghton

Captain: Billy Godleman

Last Year's Performance: Second (North Group)

2020 Leading Runscorer: Leus du Plooy (296, 42.28)

2020 Leading Wicket Taker: Matt Critchley (17, 26.88)

Overseas Players: Billy Stanlake (Australia - full season), Dustin Melton (Zimbabwe - full season).

Key man: Billy Stanlake – The Australian’s reputation has been forged in white-ball cricket but the 26-year-old 6'7" fast bowler is keen to show he can also deliver in the longer game.

Flies under the radar: Fynn Hudson-Prentice - bowls accurate medium pace and his unbeaten 91 in a thrilling win at Trent Bridge last year proved he can perform under pressure.

Best Player Under 24 - Sam Conners: The 22-year-old right-arm pace bowler impressed Jimmy Anderson when he played against Lancashire in 2019. Took nine wickets in the Bob Willis Trophy last season.

The Season Ahead: After losing the experience and pedigree of Ravi Rampaul and Tony Palladino, a lot depends on how Stanlake leads a largely inexperienced attack. "Billy is someone who has made his name with the white ball but he's determined to show what he can do in first-class cricket," said Dave Houghton. "That hunger will be huge for us." A top order of Billy Godleman, Luis Reece, Wayne Madsen and Leus du Plooy will need to fire in a tough division if Derbyshire are to be competitive while Matt Critchley's improving leg-spin and forceful batting will be another important factor in the four day campaign.

DURHAM

Coach: James Franklin

Captain: Scott Borthwick

Last Year’s Performance: Fifth (North Group)

2020 Leading Runscorer: Alex Lees (386, 48.3)

2020 Leading Wicket Taker: Chris Rushworth (16, 22.4)

Overseas players: Cameron Bancroft (Australia – May 13 onwards), David Bedingham (South Africa – full season), Will Young (New Zealand – 15 April – 2 May)

Key man: Scott Borthwick – Borthwick re-signed for the county from Surrey in the off-season. The 30-year-old was handed the captaincy and will be determined to lead from the front with the bat.

Flies under the radar: Alex Lees – The Yorkshireman has enjoyed two outstanding campaigns. In bowler-friendly conditions at Emirates Riverside, Lees has thrived and another standout year may catch the eye of the England selectors.

Best Player Under 24: Matty Potts – Potts had a breakthrough Vitality Blast last season, taking 13 wickets and career-best figures. The right-arm seamer now needs to channel that form with the red ball.

The Season Ahead: Durham were always playing catch-up in the Bob Willis Trophy after losing their opening two matches, finishing bottom of the North Group without a win. However, the club have continued to rebuild their squad that was dismantled following their relegation in 2016.

Scott Borthwick’s return is a huge coup, with the left-hander providing stability at the number three position that has been absent since his exit. Australia opener Cameron Bancroft will return after missing the 2020 season due to the pandemic. A top order featuring Alex Lees, Bancroft, Borthwick and David Bedingham provides a potent outlook with the bat.

Chris Rushworth will lead the bowling unit once more, supported by Ben Raine and Paul Coughlin. If Matt Salisbury and Matty Potts can find their peak form, Durham will boast a lively attack that could allow them to challenge in Group 1.

NOTTINGHAMSHRE

Coach: Peter Moores

Captain: Steven Mullaney

Last Year’s Performance: Fourth (North Group)

2020 Leading Runscorer: Ben Duckett (394, 56.3)

2020 Leading Wicket Taker: Zak Chappell (15, 28.7)

Overseas players: Dane Paterson (South Africa)

Key man: Joe Clarke - Even with 17 first-class centuries to his name already - four for Nottinghamshire - the classy middle-order strokemaker can still improve and his form could be key to the county’s fortunes.

Flies under the radar: Haseeb Hameed - Fast-tracked into the Test side at 19 only for his form to disappear, the opener showed signs last season that a change of scene away from the spotlight is working for him.

Best Player Under 24: Liam Patterson-White - The truncated 2020 campaign brought frustration for the left-arm spinning all-rounder, who was unable to follow up a 20-wicket debut season in 2019 but is likely to have more opportunities this year.

The Season Ahead: Although they have not won in 27 first-class matches going back to June 2018, Nottinghamshire were unlucky not to end that dismal run in the Bob Willis Trophy last season, clocking up 20 batting bonus points - six more than any other county - and 15 for bowling, and achieving a substantial first-innings lead in all their five matches. Given a batting line-up that exudes quality from Haseeb and Ben Slater at the top through Ben Duckett, Clarke and the evergreen Samit Patel, combined with a bowling attack including a resurgent Jake Ball that is bolstered by the return of Brett Hutton and the addition of the skillful South African Dane Paterson, with spin options to boot, Nottinghamshire ought to be near the top of their group. However, the long wait for a win is a monkey on their back they need to shake off quickly.

WARWICKSHIRE

Coach: Mark Robinson

Captain: Will Rhodes

Last Year’s Performance: Third (Central Group)

2020 Leading Runscorer: Will Rhodes (423, 52.88)

2020 Leading Wicket Taker: Olly Hannon-Dalby (25, 20,92)

Overseas players: Pieter Malan (South Africa – full season)

Key man: Olly Stone - Unlucky not to play more for England during the winter, Stone has much impressed around the national team and Warwickshire will look for some explosive early-season displays from him.

Flies under the radar: Will Rhodes - As captain, Rhodes’ influence will be huge, but he has also quickly become integral to the Bears batting and also an under-rated threat with the ball.

Best Player Under 24: Dan Mousley - Director of cricket Paul Farbrace believes it is only a matter of time before the classy young batsman (19) plays for England and few who have seen him play disagree.

The Season Ahead: Warwickshire have under-performed in red ball cricket in the last two years but, under new first team coach Mark Robinson, there is a belief around Edgbaston that better fortunes await this year.

Three Bears legends – Jeetan Patel, Tim Ambrose and Ian Bell – retired at the end of last season, but the club’s academy is becoming productive with Henry Brookes, Rob Yates and Dan Mousley leading the young guns’ charge into the first team.

South African batsman Pieter Malan, available for the whole season, looks a shrewd addition as overseas player while former Hampshire and Sussex spinner Danny Briggs will take on the sizeable challenge of replacing Patel.

With England pair Dom Sibley and Olly Stone likely to be available for some early games, Warwickshire are targeting a strong start on which to build a serious tilt at bringing the championship title back to Edgbaston for the first time since 2012.

WORCESTERSHIRE

Coach: Alex Gidman

Captain: Joe Leach

Last Year’s Performance: Second (Central Group)

2020 Leading Runscorer: Jake Libby (498, 55.33)

2020 Leading Wicket Taker: Joe Leach (19, 25.78)

Overseas players: Alzarri Joseph (West Indies – first seven matches)

Key man: Gareth Roderick - Will further bolster the batting order after his move from Gloucestershire and add more competition for places)

Flies under the radar: Ed Barnard - Consistently amongst Worcestershire’s wicket-takers in red ball cricket and also chips in with invaluable late order runs when most needed)

Best Player Under 24: Dillon Pennington - Burst on the scene in 2018 and after a difficult second season, the paceman came back strongly in 2020 and ready to fulfil his potential.

The Season Ahead: After two years in the doldrums in Championship cricket in 2018-2019, Worcestershire are confident of a further improvement after impressing in the Bob Willis Trophy and expect to challenge strongly for a top group spot in September.

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